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The Importance of Business Cards in Japan

The Importance of Business Cards in Japan

Establishing business relationships in any foreign country can be difficult. Every region boasts its own culture and practices. It is all too easy to make mistakes that could result in you appearing to be unprofessional or even rude.

This is particularly true in Japanese culture where relationships tend to be based on trust and rapport and where meticulous attention to detail is the norm. It is certainly worth acquainting yourself with Japanese business etiquette and practices alongside the language before approaching any companies in the country.

Japanese Business Card exchange, or " meishi koukan " (名刺交換), is a crucial aspect of professional interactions. It is a ritual that extends beyond merely sharing contact information; it embodies respect, hierarchy, and social etiquette, serving as a cornerstone of Japanese business culture.

How did business cards in Japan become so important?

The concept of name cards in Japan can be traced back to the Edo period (1603-1868), a time marked by isolationist policies and strict social structures. During this era, personal and professional interactions were governed by rigid etiquette, and the exchange of name cards, known as "shuinjo," began to emerge among the samurai and merchant classes.

Shuinjo were more akin to letters of introduction or certificates, often containing elaborate calligraphy and seals. These documents were used to establish one's credentials and to facilitate introductions, particularly in situations where face-to-face business meetings were not possible. The use of such documents was a precursor to the modern business card, serving as an early means of conveying identity and social status.

How did business cards become so important?

The Meiji Restoration of 1868 marked a period of rapid modernisation and Westernisation in Japan. As the country began to embrace international trade and diplomacy, many Western customs and practices were adopted, including the use of business cards. Western-style business cards were introduced to Japan by foreign traders and diplomats, who used them in their interactions with Japanese businesspeople and officials.

During this time, Japanese entrepreneurs and professionals began to recognize the utility and significance of business cards in establishing formal business relationships. The practice of exchanging cards was gradually integrated into Japanese business culture, blending with traditional Japanese etiquette and customs.

By the early 20th century, the use of business cards, or meishi, had become firmly established in Japan. The design and content of the cards evolved to reflect the growing importance of corporate identity and professional hierarchy. Cards typically included not only the individual's name and contact information but also their job title and company logo, emphasising the organisational context and the individual's role within it.

Business cards in the digital age

It might seem strange that the importance of business cards persists in Japanese business culture, even in the digital age. Japan remains a powerhouse of economic strength and technological advancement and yet paper cards are still fundamental to building business relationships. But services like Sansan and myBridge do enable online digital management of scanned business cards and CRM tools support meishi koukan data.

digital age business cards

If your meeting is online, there are several ways to give and receive business cards. Prior to the meeting it is a good idea to consult with other attendees to confirm the most appropriate method for exchanging cards.

The ritual of exchanging cards in person

Business card exchange is more than a simple custom. It holds far greater significance than in the West, embodying respect and trust. It is vital not just to exchange business cards but to have the right business cards and to present them in the appropriate manner.

Attention to detail

Attention to detail

Attention to detail is highly valued in Japan and so the quality of your business card matters. The card will speak to your company's commitment to excellence. It is worth investing in well-designed, superior quality cards that showcase your brand’s identity. Your card should feature your company name and logo together with your name, position and contact details. Unique features such as embossed printing can convey a sense of prestige. During the exchange of business cards it is essential that business cards are pristine.

It is best to have double sided business cards with one side being printed in Japanese. You should ensure that you carry enough cards for the number of people that you might meet.

Business card holder

Business card holders are convenient wherever you happen to be and in Japan these accessories hold cultural significance. It is considered impolite to simply retrieve your cards from your pocket. Removing your card from a stylish card holder demonstrates respect for both the card and the person you are offering it to.

The exchange

Business card holder
  • Always stand up during a business card exchange. This shows respect and acknowledges the formality of the interaction to the Japanese person. First impressions!

  • In the event of a group setting, present your card to the highest-ranking person first, then proceed down the hierarchy of the Japanese company.

  • Hold the card with both hands, at the corners, ensuring that the text faces the recipient. This is a sign of respect and careful consideration.

  • As you present your card, introduce yourself clearly.

  • Accompany the exchange with a slight bow. The depth of the bow can vary depending on the formality of the situation and the status of the person you are meeting.

  • Receive the card with both hands, holding it at the corners.

  • Take the steps to look at the card carefully. This shows respect for the person and their information.

  • If you are unsure how to pronounce a name, this is the time to ask. Communication is key.

  • Thank the person who has offered their card.

  • If you are seated at a table, place the card on the table in front of you, typically on top of your cardholder. Arrange cards according to the seating order of the participants.

  • Do not write on a card, fiddle with it or put it away immediately.

The foundation for success

The importance of Japanese business cards extends far beyond their function of providing contact information in Japanese culture. The cards are symbols of identity, first impressions, reflections of respect and indicative of professionalism. They are fundamental to building and maintaining business relationships. Understanding and adhering to the proper etiquette of meishi exchange is essential for anyone looking to engage a the Japanese business setting. Perfecting your card and the ritual of exchange gives you deeper cultural appreciation and will lead to successful professional interactions.

end banner - Business cards

Noel Myatt

4 min read

Jun 11



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